News & Notes 

Crockett goes postal; chamber of influence; Oaktown littered with corpses and franks.

Meet me at the ... er, deli: When one of Crockett's biggest landlords recently gave a tenant notice, it had no clue what was to come. Letter-writing campaigns, calls to governmental representatives, and soon, perhaps, banners on the town's main drag -- C&H Sugar profoundly underestimated the love affair between locals and their post office.

Crockett's mail drop is among the last vestiges of the sugar refinery's hold on this town of 3,200 (see Cityside). The company built the building back in 1935, and has leased it to the Postal Service ever since. "It's more than just a post office," said one old-timer. "It's a place where people meet up to talk. It's part of our community."

Which is precisely why townsfolk were aghast over C&H's recent announcement that it would not renew the building's lease when it expires next March. "Many people like our little post office, and are surprised and upset at this news," says resident Paul Shulze.

Crockett is unincorporated, and residents worry that local mail delivery will simply dry up. Rose Mims, who runs the facility, assures people that the Postal Service will try to relocate locally, but options are limited in this small town, and the local psyche may suffer, regardless. "We've been here fifty years, so moving is not easy," says Mims.

Besides its historic cane-processing plant, C&H owns a few other buildings in town, and residents wonder if these will become the next victims of what the company calls "a closer look at the bottom line." When it served notice on the postal facility, C&H reps mentioned that the company is trying to sell most of its local holdings to "get out of the landlord business," says Mims.

That worries some residents. The Crockett Historical Museum is situated in an old railroad depot owned by C&H. Other holdings includes the Scout Hall, the library, and another historic building leased by the Carquinez Women's Club. At a recent town meeting, company officials said C&H wasn't planning to end these leases, says Keith Olsen, the museum's 72-year-old curator.

Still, the loss of their P.O. is too much for some locals. The 300-strong Crockett Improvement Association is launching a letter-writing campaign to protest the company's decision, says Shulze, the association's acting president. Other local strategies in the works, he says, include protest banners and phone calls to politicians. Given the town's gumption, a new bumper sticker might even be in order: Don't Mess With Crockett!

But parking may be tough: Attention, Berkeley residents! Worried about the imminent construction of the downtown "Library Gardens" apartment building? You should be. Library Gardens will be built atop the Hink's Garage site, and the loss of those 350 parking spaces during construction could deal a death blow to downtown business! Just ask Dan Craig, former executive director of the Downtown Berkeley Association (DBA), who argued in a 1997 letter to the City Council that parking and traffic problems resulting from loss of said spots "would detrimentally impact retail and entertainment uses in the immediate vicinity." Or Donn Logan, a recent emeritus of downtown architectural powerhouse Elbasani and Logan, who complained in the Berkeley Voice that downtown cinemas would be at risk. "The two theaters that use Hink's parking comprise fully seventy percent of the downtown screens. A loss of parking could be fatal to them and severely damage the downtown district," Logan wrote. "We are faced with a recipe for economic disaster."

Hey, wait a minute -- the DBA and the rest of the downtown business establishment support the Library Gardens project. What gives?

John DeClercq, that's what. He's the senior vice president of Transaction Companies, which owns Hink's Garage. Back in '97, when Alameda County needed a site for a new Berkeley courthouse, the progressive Council proposed the garage as an option, prompting the above doomsaying from business leaders up and down Shattuck Avenue, as well as Mayor Shirley Dean. Never mind that the county intended to replace every single parking space -- even a temporary elimination of Hinks' parking would plunge a shiv straight into the heart of retail sales and silence the city's cash registers forever. But now that DeClercq has decided to temporarily eliminate the very same parking spaces in his quest to become Berkeley's latest landlord, the city's deep pockets are all for it. Oh, have we mentioned that DeClercq happens to be the president of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce? Queried by 7 Days, current DBA president Rauly Butler said that the association's change of heart was based entirely on the new project's merits. Uh-huh. And we'll get your daughter home by 8:30.

And things are scary out there: The bloodbath of seven Oakland homicides over the weekend of May 4 may have done more than spur Jerry Brown to the bully pulpit -- it could also affect the upcoming "Riders" police misconduct trial. The Riders' lead defense attorney Michael Rains intends to claim that city leaders push their cops to crack down on crime and then crucify them when they do their job too well. Since many of the slayings were in West Oakland, the very part of town where the Riders dispensed their unique brand of justice, some potential jurors may be growing more sympathetic to Rains' arguments. The lawyer even suggests that the Riders scandal and subsequent caution on the part of the OPD have contributed to the crime wave. "I think these days the police are all just responding to calls, and the dope dealers know that, so you see this phenomenon happening," he says.

While acknowledging Rains' theory, OPD homicide section commander Brian Thiem says violent crime is more complex than that. "We heard the same things after the LAPD Ramparts case and the Rodney King riots: Arrests went down and people called it de-policing," says Thiem. "I can say definitively that there are no simple reasons why these homicides occur."

Speaking of trials, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Richard Park has delayed the trial date in the Oakland Raiders' lawsuit against the city. That's certainly good news for Al Davis, whose lawyers have been trying to drag out the suit as long as possible. But the delay also happened to be requested by one of the defendants, accounting firm Arthur Andersen, which we hear is in some kind of trouble. This delay gives Oakland's attorney James Brosnahan time to clear his schedule of another nagging project; apparently, he's defending this guy named John Walker Lindh.

And pretty weird, too: "You can do just about anything in Oakland," said the artist's coconspirator. And with that a giant Hebrew National hot dog was hoisted into the dank dark downtown Oakland sky and placed atop a tree stump opposite the McDonald's on Jackson Street. The five-foot-long, now-vertical dog was emblazoned with the word "Fate," scrawled on its side in Arabic in what looked suspiciously like French's mustard. It was yet another piece of guerrilla artwork courtesy of a madman known only as Bruce Bortino to his friends.

And what's that? Etched at the dog's base, barely legible, was the word "Suicide." Hebrew National? Fate? Suicide? Was this a clever prank, an attack on Mickey D's, or a local artist's response to the Middle East insanity? Hard to say, but the hot dogger's Web site www.concentric.net/~bbortin mentions that he's Jewish, suggesting the latter. Whatever the case, the dog remained on the street -- upended, impassive, and quiet, while a battered Mazda pickup containing the artist and his giggling compatriots sped off into the night, proud that another bit of surrealism now graced their cityscape. The trio drifted off to sleep that night wondering what awaited their Hebrew National dog and its stump, which had been festooned with pictures of hot-dog buns. (The artist had learned that using glue to hold up real buns would be toxic to sparrows, and a staple gun merely destroyed the buns.)

The installation, alas, is no more. The fateful frank was stolen. Perhaps, with a little luck, the thief will return one day for the fast-food franchise.

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